When the cameras stopped rolling on SBS documentary Go Back Live, participants Meshel Laurie and Peter 'Spida' Everitt did not. Instead they worked to secure a way out for a refugee family they met in South Sudan.
Laurie announced on social media on Thursday that the pair managed to help Nyanhial and her family, who have relatives living in Melbourne, leave the Bentiu refugee camp and reunite with family in Ethiopia.
"Conclusion of a big project tonight. @spidaeveritt and I have moved this family from Bentiu camp to be reunited with the rest of their family in Ethiopia. So happy and relieved. You can’t save the world, just do what you can when an opportunity presents itself. 🙏 Thank you God, Buddha, Muhammad, Ganesh, and Khaleesi. We did it," Laurie wrote on her Instagram.
Laurie and Everitt first went looking for Nyanhial at the Bentiu refugee camp after meeting her brother Jeffah, his wife Nyanduk and their six children in Melbourne for episode one of Go Back to Where You Came From Live.
“I just remember sitting down next to Nyanhial and thinking as a mum, this poor woman is so exhausted," Laurie told SBS Life.
“I come from a great school community where we chip in and help each other, the mums. So I was thinking what can we do to help this lady?”
Laurie and Spida took advantage of the contacts Go Back Live producers had made, spending months organising documents and fielding emails. Joseph, the pair’s driver and translator in South Sudan’s capital Juba proved invaluable. Joseph helped tracked down Nyanhial’s long-lost family in Ethiopia and organised the paperwork and flights to get her to Ethiopia, where the family will finally be reunited.
When war broke out in South Sudan in the 1980’s, Nyanhial’s family was torn apart with the clan literally forced to run in different directions. Nyanhial and her husband and youngest child stayed in South Sudan, while her five remaining children who were with their grandmother fled to Ethiopia. Nyanhial’s brother Jeffa made it to Australia.
“When your world dissolves in chaos like that, you lose everything, you lose communication,” Laurie said.
“They had a great life and all of sudden they were reduced to living in mud in Bentiu.”
The comedian and the former AFL player travelled to South Sudan and found Nyanhial among the 50,000 inhabitants of Bentiu, helping reunite the siblings in an emotional moment in the Go Back Live studio. Jeffah, who fled South Sudan in 1986 as a six-year-old, was able to reconnect with his sister Nyanhial after 20 years apart.
Laurie and Everitt bonded after they were paired on the SBS documentary, which placed high-profile Australians with opposing views at the heart of the refugee crisis to meet firsthand families torn apart by war.
The journey was particularly eye-opening for Everitt, who admitted his experience on the show had changed his views on asylum seekers.
Laurie said a week ago Everitt had helped Jeffa’s son Ricky get a job. Ricky, a high performing student had struggled to find work in the wake negative press on Sudanese youth.
"It's amazing. You just don't get that opportunity very often in life (to help someone),” Laurie said.
“You can’t get overwhelmed. When opportunities arise, take them as they come - big ones or little ones. If everybody did that we’d be laughing.”